Darko Butorac

Conductor Darko Butorac leads the Missoula Symphony Orchestra at the 2016 Symphony in the Park, the free annual event held in Caras.

Missoula Symphony music director Darko Butorac will be leaving Missoula after 12 seasons leading the orchestra.

Butorac came to Missoula in 2007 and has led the symphony to new musical heights in his 11 seasons as director. The 2018-19 season will be his last before moving on to direct the Asheville Symphony Orchestra in North Carolina.

“It has been a great honor to serve as the music director of the Missoula Symphony Association,” Butorac said in a news release. “I am very proud of our orchestra and chorale for everything we have achieved together.

"Being part of the Missoula community has been very special both for me and for my family, and we will miss it very much.”

Butorac was traveling to London Thursday, and could not be reached by phone.

It’s no surprise Butorac is moving on, said John Driscoll, executive director of the Missoula Symphony Association. They hired him as a young director, knowing he was talented enough to move up in the field.

When the symphony hired Butorac, Driscoll said, they hoped for a good decade of his leadership. They feel lucky to have 12 years of his unique energy and personality.

“I don’t think that energy has wavered at all in his 11 seasons,” Driscoll said. “No question we’ll miss him.”

Butorac also directs the Tallahassee Symphony, and Driscoll said he thought it would be nice for Butorac to have easier travel between his two jobs.

Margaret Baldridge has been concert master of the symphony for 25 years. She said Butorac brought the symphony to places it had never been able to go before musically.

Part of that were his expectations. Baldridge said he’s demanded the symphony come more prepared to rehearsals, and challenged players to up their musicianship.

“We’ve grown both musically and technically,” Baldridge said. “We are a completely different orchestra from what we were 11 years ago.”

That was achieved through Butorac’s commitment to the orchestra, building up their skills over time so difficult pieces came more easily, as well as his emphasis on players’ personal responsibility toward the music, Baldridge said.

Those years of work paid off with two powerful performances: Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” in the spring of 2017, and Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 this spring — intense, complicated pieces that can be difficult for professional orchestras.

“We really did justice to them,” Bladridge said. “We’re up to the challenge.”

The symphony will start accepting applications for the next director this fall, Driscoll said.

He expects more than 100 applicants, who will be whittled down to a small group of finalists. Those finalists will take turns directing the symphony during the 2019-20 season as part of the interview process.

“The good news for Missoula … is that this industry is really, it’s extremely competitive,” he said. “We actually reap the benefits of that.”

Driscoll also brought up the two recent spring performances as examples of Butorac’s influence on the Missoula Symphony Orchestra, which is now in a better position to get accomplished candidates than they were a little over a decade ago.

“We’re well poised organizationally,” Driscoll said. “(Butorac) has done great work to set us up.”

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